"Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." (Romans 1:4)
Speaking of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, Scripture says, "He showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days." If he had not risen from the grave by his own right and power, there had been a dissatisfaction and a breach in the covenant, which God had ordained to be a complete covenant. It is said of him, "Who died for our sins and is risen again for our justification;" (Rom. 4:25) so if he had not risen, justification could not be preached in its fullness. But this resurrection confirmed all he had done before, and his ascension into heaven was a double confirmation. "He that descended is the same also that ascended." (Eph. 4:10) "Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?"
1. We will make a few remarks about the Lord Jesus descending, what he descended from and what to, and show what he did for us in this condescending mercy.
2. Look at his human nature in the tomb and the glorious power put forth, which the text speaks of, "According to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." When Christ was raised, he raised himself by his own Spirit.
3. Try to examine our state and what knowledge we have of his resurrection in our hearts; because if we have no knowledge of our own state by nature under sin and death, we shall never prize and value him. "Forasmuch as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same, that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death." (Heb. 2:14) When Christ was raised, there was nothing to keep him in the tomb, nothing unaccomplished. All the attributes of God were harmonized. So he could not be holden of death by all the powers of death and darkness. "Having spoiled principalities and powers" for the church, "he made a show of them openly." (Col. 2:15) Therefore death is not death to a believer. "He that liveth and believeth in me shall never die." (John 11:26) It is impossible for death to reign over a believer. The Forerunner, the Lord Jesus, passed through all those dark territories before the church to make a way for her, and shed his blood in those dark regions; hence the atonement is in them all, and when the church passes through, the atonement is there, no anger of God, no destruction is there; for he spoiled death, destruction, and all the powers of darkness and hell, and triumphed over them. "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." (1 Cor. 15:26) When he rose triumphant from the grave, he destroyed death literally as well as spiritually. His holy human soul entered into his body--for he partook of a human soul in common with Adam's race. He took perfect human nature in the womb of the virgin, not by natural generation, but prepared by the Holy Spirit: "A body hast thou prepared me;" and he took it formed perfectly. (Heb. 10:5) Hence he says, "My substance was not hid from thee when I was made in secret and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth." (Ps. 139:15)
1. But we want to understand what he descended from, then what to. He lay enwrapped in the Father's bosom, in the glorious Godhead, as ancient as the Father, not inferior. The name Son signifies there is a Father; as soon as there was the Son there was the Father, not before. This ever-blessed co-eternal Son of God with the Father and the Holy Spirit inhabited eternity, the Son from everlasting, and the Father and the Holy Spirit from everlasting. Thus the Trinity exists in Unity, not Three Gods, but Three distinct Persons in one undivided Jehovah, God over all, blessed for ever.
Then, I say, the Son of God descended from that ineffable light and glory into the dark territories of this present world, was made under the law and under the curse, willing to submit to all its demands--nay, delighted. He says, "Rejoicing in the habitable parts of his earth, and my delights were with the sons of men" (Proverbs 8:31) from eternity. Therefore it was his eternal love brought him down, and the love of the Father, and the love of the Holy Ghost, the fullness of it was in him. Then as the Head and Lord of the church, he "descended first into the lower parts of the earth." None of the human race can ever go lower into distress, darkness, and temptation; none can ever go so low, into such a profound deep of the powers of hell and darkness, as God's dear Son. He went beneath them all, ah, he did; and in this path his holy humanity had the blessed efficacy of the Godhead in it. Divinity could not suffer; that is impossible; but the holy, pure, human nature, O the sorrows, the hells, the billows of wrath that entered in and kindled up in his holy soul! But his heart was fixed; he would not abate one iota; he would go through.
"The soldiers pierced his side, 'tis true,
But we have pierced him through and through."
"In his love and in his pity he redeemed them."
This love in the flowings out of it was unabated in all these sufferings. We read, "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isa. 55:9) Now, if the best friend we ever had had brought us into some terrible state of sorrow, we should fret; but he did not. His heart flowed with love to us in the midst of it. "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8) It is a solemn truth that he loved his people as much when they were dead in sin as ever he will when they are holy in heaven, just as much when on the cross in his sufferings as when they are shouting victory and hosannas to his name. If that were not true, we should believe in a changeable Lord Jesus; but we believe he is "the same yesterday, today, and for ever." (Heb. 13:8) Therefore "in his love and in his pity he redeemed them." (Isa. 63:9)
See what a precious thing grace is. Not a particle of grace ever came to Adam's race but through the dear Redeemer. He stooped to take our sins and our hells, which we must have laid in for ever; for we could never pay one iota by our suffering. We must lie in them to all eternity; there is no jail deliverance. But his blessed Majesty entered into the black regions of eternal death and the bottomless pit experimentally, not locally, and walked through them in his soul and spirit in triumph when on the cross; and when he had completed his victory on the cross over all the powers of death and hell, which none can comprehend a thousandth part of, he cried, "It is finished!" And gave up the ghost. Now redemption was finished, salvation's work done, everlasting righteousness brought in, and he was anointed the Most Holy. Now God the Father was exalted in his justice and magnified in his office of Mediator and Redeemer in the covenant of grace, and God the Holy Ghost for ever to be adored in his holy witnessing to the finished work of Jesus. When he cried, "It is finished!" All the attributes of the blessed Trinity were glorified, and all the hell of the church destroyed.
Then this is a solemn truth, that every one who is interested in the finished work of Jesus is as sure to be in heaven as he is there. What a delusion is the Arminian doctrine, that "if you turn" to God you will be saved. Dear friends, if God does not turn you, you will never be turned; you cannot turn without. Our great business is to know not what we can do, but what God has done for us; for as sure as he accomplished this victory for us, the Holy Ghost will work the same redemption in our hearts, operating as a Spirit of faith; and we shall receive it and hold it fast as our own. That will be our reward. "I will put upon you none other burden; but that which ye have already, hold fast till I come." (Rev. 2:24,25)
2. Look at him in the grave. It was not by chance he was laid there. "He made his grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death." (Isa. 53:9) Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man, and it was not by chance he had a sepulchre hewn out of the rock. It was a suitable, fit place for his holy humanity to be laid in. See the darling Son of God, after he had paid the penal score, suffered that awful death--and if the Holy Ghost witness to it in your heart, methinks if you had a thousand hearts you would love him with them all. Some say, to believe our sin and death is finished leads to looseness. No, it leads us to love him. If I know anything about it, that is what it will do; it causes us to
"Love the Lord with mind and heart,
His people, and his ways;"
and all other pretensions to love him are not worth naming; they will not stand trouble. But this sacred bond of dying love will never break. No, it will go through all kinds of destruction for his name's sake and never break. I have felt sometimes when I have been under compunction, godly sorrow, and a deep sense of my sinnership, that if I were in hell I would praise him there; that I am not worth his mercies. This dying love of Jesus will kindle up in the heart at times, that it will, and hold the soul fast to him in trouble. It is the very essence of divinity. Paul prays, "That ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God." (Eph. 3:17-19)
Then see him in the tomb, the cold, dead body of the precious Jesus in death's hands, wound in a clean linen cloth, with about 100 lb. weight of spices; as the manner of the Jews was to bury. Joseph and Nicodemus carried the body to the sepulchre in the rock, and Mary Magdalene and the other women saw him laid in the tomb. You recollect those on the side of the Sanhedrin had been saying, "That deceiver said, After three days I will rise again; therefore set a watch and make it sure." (Matt. 27:65) So they rolled a great stone to the mouth of the sepulchre, and sealed it to make it secure, with the stamp of authority; and they set soldiers for a watch, to keep his sacred body in the tomb.
Now let us mark the order of providence here. Such a thing never was and never will be again. This is hallowed ground to my spirit. What sacred delight I have had in secret in meditating on this wonder. Here is an endless theme to meditate upon, and the things that spring out of it fill all heaven with glory, and glorify every attribute of God. This burial of the Lord Jesus Christ was according to God's appointment, and there were hidden mysteries sealed down with him, that the message of peace and all else to his people should come out of this very thing. When he lay there in the tomb, all the election of grace lay there too, sealed down with him. They were all in him when he passed through the territories of sin and death, and in him in the tomb--all there. Then think again what a flimsy thing the Arminian doctrine is. Who can raise the church from hell and death but Jesus? His glorious Majesty was sealed down, and the soldiers were set to watch. What a sacred place that was. And on the third day very early in the morning came Mary Magdalene and the other women bringing spices, while it was yet dark, and saw the stone rolled away. His divine Majesty had raised himself by his own divine power; and unless that same majestic power that entered the silent tomb enter your heart and mine, we shall never have a resurrection to eternal life. "Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection. Upon such the second death hath no power." (Rev. 20:6) This is a great truth, that all his elect were in him.
"One in the tomb; one when he rose;
One when he triumph'd o'er his foes;
One when in heaven he took his seat,
And seraphs sang all hell's defeat."
He is "the First-begotten of the dead." "Declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." (Rom. 1:4)
Now see him a risen Lord, unknown to the world. We do not read that any of the world ever recognized him or saw him again; but the church did. He came where they were and said, "Peace be unto you." But they were terrified and affrighted; therefore he communed with them and said, "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." (Luke 24:39) Then were the disciples glad when they had seen the Lord.
We may draw two inferences from his resurrection. 1. Seeing it has taken place, all the attributes of the Triune God are in harmony in showing mercy to guilty, rebellious man. We can little comprehend what a harmony there is in them when mercy drops into a poor sinner's heart and puts away all his guilt. It is all God's honor, God's glory, to make reconciliation for iniquity; none else can. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost are eternally glorified and the eternal decrees magnified by the resurrection of Jesus, and the purposes of the creation all accomplished, what it was created for.
And, 2. whatever death and destruction his poor saints are in, nothing will destroy them, because death is finished. If they could be destroyed, it would eclipse the glory of the Trinity. We want clean doctrine; my soul loves it, and it will strengthen our faith. Perhaps some seeking soul may think we pass him by; but you will come to it by and by. Some things I heard when I could not understand them are sweet to me now, like bread cast upon the waters, and found after many days. It is not wise always to thirst for comforts, but to thirst for realities. Five minutes adversity may sweep away comforts; but if you have realities, fifty years of trouble will not sweep them away. I long more and more to lay hold of God in his infinite wisdom and truth, in realities, and hold them by faith. I say we may draw this inference from his resurrection, that wherever the saints are, in awful states, surrounded by devils and sin, in seas of destruction, they will come out of them clean. We might look through the Scriptures and see they were lifted right out, and delivered from men that were worse, if possible, than devils; as Daniel out of the lion's den, or the three Hebrews from the fiery furnace. What seas of trouble and sorrows the church has been in, and eternal life has been in every part; she has gone through them in triumph to glory. "Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?" (1 Pet. 3:13)
3. Just to touch on the resurrection in a sinner's heart; for all this finished redemption must be brought more or less by the Spirit into the heart, or else it has no saving effect, but leaves us unimpressed and cold. He is "declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead." Therefore if you have the resurrection, you have his power in your religion, in your heart, and in your profession. It consists in his power. The first thing God does in his people is to quicken the dead soul into life; and immediately he does so, nothing can put it back where it was before, into darkness and death. "You hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins." (Eph. 2:1) It is an effectual work. Now as sure as that quickening power has entered our hearts, so sure we were dead with Christ in the tomb, and so sure we rose with him too; our sin is put away, and our death is finished. "For if the firstfruits be holy, the lump is also holy." (Romans 11:16)
First, then, if you are a partaker of his resurrection, you will know what it is at times to be completely raised above the elements of the world. They cannot satisfy your poor, needy soul; and you will have a sense of your inability to work out anything to supply the wants of your helpless soul. Mark, it will be so with the wicked some day; they will come to a state of want and there will be no Christ, no Jesus, no God; they will continue sinking in endless want and woe when earth and creatures fail, sin reigns, and devils triumph; down they will go. Not so the quickened soul, certainly not. He has a God; ay, the God that made the heavens and earth is his God, the Lord Jesus that suffered the Just for the unjust is his Redeemer, and the Holy Ghost is his Comforter. This poor wretch that feels his want spiritually and longs after the mercies of Jesus has a heaven of grace and mercy to participate in.
This is the first evidence that we are partakers of his resurrection. We are raised up in such a desire for the favor and pardoning love of Jesus that everything else sinks into insignificance, and we hang there, between hope and fear. The Holy Spirit by his blessed influence and comforting power brings in a little comfort, a little nearness in prayer, or a verse of a hymn suitable; faith lays hold, and the soul longs for full deliverance. That is the resurrection; it has taken place in that heart. But all these exercises and desires you cannot live on. A poor man cannot live on his poverty. God has provided blessed provision for his poor people. "Blessed are the poor in spirit; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:3) "In this mountain will the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, of fat things full of marrow," (Isa. 25:6) everything a poor sinner can want.
Another evidence of his resurrection in your heart is, your affections will be raised up in his holy, filial fear. "The fear of the Lord is clean." (Psalm 19:9) So that the will of God in heaven, the teaching of the Spirit in your heart, and the witness of the Spirit in the Word all agree; these three. Those that know most of God will be the highest in your esteem; you will feel, "I love them that love thee."
Again. There are times and seasons, if you are a partaker of this resurrection, when you are raised up by faith into the truth of the everlasting gospel, and can say feelingly,
"The gospel bears my spirit up;
A faithful and unchanging God
Lays the foundation of my hope
In oaths, and promises, and blood."
The gospel is to you good news from a far country; that is, a revelation of free, unmerited grace in God to a sinner. He has promised, "If any man open to me" under the sound of the gospel, "I will come in to him, and sup with him and he with me." (Rev. 3:20) "He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me." (Matthew 10:40) You will be raised up in your affections and conscience at times in the gospel of the Son of God, and then you will lie easy on your pillow.
At one time I was in sad adversity. One Saturday night I was full of trouble. I had just married, and all my money, which I had lent, was lost. I had no furniture, and went into two rooms. All the sweets in my soul I had had before were gone; I was shut up, and the devil worked, and I saw God's hand in it all. O the sorrow it brought, and I had not much sleep that night. But on Sunday morning Mr. Vinall gave out this text, and it read my heart: "Though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet shall not thy teachers be removed into a corner any more, but thine eyes shall see thy teachers." (Isaiah 30:20) O the peace and liberty I felt, my conscience was clean, my heart healed; and as I came out of chapel, this dropped like honey and the honeycomb: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." (Luke 1:46,47) What a full atonement I received that day! After some years my money was all paid back, as the man recovered himself. How God overreached all my unbelief and trouble with his love and mercy.
So the gospel will lift your soul up at times in your troubles. Do you know what that is, for it to raise you above all your sorrows, sinkings, and woe? Then you are a partaker of the resurrection of the Son of God; you have his power in your heart.